A Korean worker sacrifice himself in protest

KFCITU Member, Jung Hae Jin Dies due to Self-Immolation During a Strike.
Shouting, “The Incheon electrician’s strike is just, arrest defacto owner of Youngjin Electrical Company, Yoo Hae San,” 48-year old Jung Hae Jin, member of the Korean Construction Workers Union, KFCITU, an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) set himself on fire at 1:54 p.m. on Saturday, October 27 in front of Youngjin Electrical Company during a march and rally. He would later die from his injuries at 9:00 despite efforts by doctors to save his life.
Close to 400 members of the KFCITU were participating in a demonstration to support the 113 day-old strike of the Branch of Incheon Electricians. The rally was part of the annual National Rally in Support of Irregular Workers Rights. At the time of the Jung’s self-immolation, the union members were in a confrontation with riot police who had set up blockades to forcefully stop the union from continuing with the rally. Shocked union members rushed to douse out the fire but tragically Jung suffered third and fourth degree burns to at least 40% of his body. While Jung was rushed to the hospital, the riot police refused to allow the union members to leave and threatened throughout the day to arrest them. Eventually, the riot police removed their blockades allowing union members to go to the hospital to pay their respects to Jung Hae Jin.
The Branch of Incheon Electricians of the Korean Construction Workers Union (KCWU) began negotiations with the 13 sub contractors that hired electricians in the Incheon metropolitan area on February 28, 2007. However after repeated efforts to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement resulted in failure, the union began a strike that was supported by 88% of its membership on June 19. The union’s demands included union recognition, 44-hour work week, and an end to illegal subcontracting. In addition, the union emphasized safety, as electricians frequently worked under hazardous conditions, particularly since electricians worked on power lines that contained high distribution-level voltages. Should there be a slight mishap during the repairs of these power lines, a worker could easily loose an arm or leg and even worse die as a result of electrocution.
Throughout the strike, Yoo Hae San, defacto owner of Youngjin Electrical Company even though his wife is the official CEO of the company consistently repressed the union. After obtaining a mandate from the sub contractors to represent them, Yoo Hae San refused to engage in legitimate negotiations with the union. In addition, he hired thugs to intimidate union members participating in the strike and forcefully pull down a tent that was part of a sit-down demonstration in front of Youngjin Electrical Company.
Jung Hae Jin had been an electrician for close to 20 years working for several sub contractors. In recent months, Jung Hae Jin was working as a “day laborer” substituting for contracted electricians due to lack of work and injuries (most recent to his back) that he suffered from two accidents on the job. In both occasions the employers refused to recognize the accidents as work-related and thus he could not receive workers compensation. He joined the union during the recent strike after witnessing the forceful tactics of Youngjin Electrical Company against the union.  He had first-hand knowledge of the repressive methods of Youngjin as he had worked from them as a “day laborer” in several occasions. Jung was considered a very kind person and well-liked and respected by everyone.
His tragic death is part of the on-going struggle of South Korean construction workers to be treated like a human being. According to a fellow union member of Jung Hae Jin, “We work 12 to 13 hours a day without being treated as a human being. It is because of this we are calling on the employers to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement so we that they finally honor the labor laws and treat us like human beings.”
Both the KCTU and KFCITU leadership have established an emergency committee to discuss how to address this terrible tragedy.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: inter@kctu.org Web-site : http://kctu.org
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

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